Covid-19: Note of hope as limits eased for Christmas

Covid-19: Note of hope as limits eased for Christmas

Taoiseach Micheál Martin during a press conference at Government Buildings after he addressed the nation on exiting from Level 5. Picture: Julien Behal

Families will be allowed to travel home and gather together for Christmas as the Government has taken a "calculated risk" in easing Covid-19 restrictions.

Shops, hairdressers, churches, gyms, museums, and cinemas will all reopen from Tuesday, December 1, under a multi-phase plan to ease restrictions on the economy and society.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin announced that the whole country will move to level 3, which will see more than 30,000 people return to work.

Restaurants and gastro-pubs will be allowed to serve indoors from next Friday, December 4, but so-called wet pubs will remain shut.

Mr Martin also warned that the Government will "not be slow to act again" in reimposing level 5 restrictions in January if cases spike over Christmas.

It comes as the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) warned that it is anticipating at least one and possibly two further lockdowns next year if key vaccines are rolled out later than thought, as the leading think-tank prepares its key economic forecasts for 2021.

Research professor Kieran McQuinn told the Irish Examiner that, despite the ending of the current lockdown, the outlook for the economy is "a bit of a mixed bag" because any spike in Covid-19 cases through Christmas would likely lead to at least one further lockdown next year, before vaccines start to be rolled out.

Mr Martin said the Government would be looking at "a different type of restrictions, if we had to move into more restrictions" and strongly suggested that non-essential retail would be allowed to remain open.

In his state-of-the-nation address last night, Mr Martin emphasised the need for people to take personal responsibility to combat the virus and manage the risk in the phases of reopening.

“Every contact counts,” he said.

We are trusting business owners, and we are trusting their customers. 

We all have individual personal responsibility and, by closely following the rules, we believe we can make this reopening sustainable,” he said.

In his state-of-the-nation address last night, Taoiseach Micheál Martin emphasised the need for people to take personal responsibility to combat the virus and manage the risk in the phases of reopening. Picture: Julien Behal
In his state-of-the-nation address last night, Taoiseach Micheál Martin emphasised the need for people to take personal responsibility to combat the virus and manage the risk in the phases of reopening. Picture: Julien Behal

In what will be seen as a major blow to the licensed trade, Mr Martin said there was no evidence to support the reopening of wet pubs, and such a measure would have led to an acceleration of Covid cases.

"Just imagine the Christmas events that would happen ordinarily in all our lives. It doesn't take rocket science to figure out what would happen," Mr Martin said.

Businesses will receive a "bonus week" of the Covid-19 restrictions support scheme (CRSS) payments during the first week that they reopen.

Three double weeks of CRSS payments amounting to up to €15,000 will be given to businesses, such as wet pubs and clubs, that are not allowed reopen in December.

On the issue of international travel, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said that, by and large, Irish people are deciding not to return from abroad but he said some people "do have to come home", citing those with elderly parents.

Mr Martin said advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) — as well as other data around people's mental help, the impact on the economy, and admissions to hospital and ICUs — were all considered by the Government ahead of the announcement.

In advising that the hospitality sector should not open in December, chief medical officer Tony Holohan had warned that Ireland is in a "precarious" position in the fight against Covid-19.

In Nphet's letter to the Government on the latest coronavirus outlook, Dr Holohan made stark warnings about the impacts that opening up the economy, which the Government tonight announced it would do, could have.

The letter says that, while case numbers are falling with a reproductive number of just under 1, modelling shows that if this were to rise to 1.2, "the level of disease in January 2021 will present a real and substantial threat to the ongoing protection of public health and of the most vulnerable".

Calling this "optimistically low", Dr Holohan says it would mean a daily case rate of 400 per day by January, meaning that if restrictions were eased, a third wave of the virus will "ensue much more quickly and with greater mortality than the second".

The Taoiseach said he and the Government are satisfied that this combination of new arrangements strikes a safe balance between maintaining the pressure on the disease and creating space for families, friends, and loved ones to be together this Christmas.

"After Christmas comes the new year. The days will start to lengthen again. And we can face into 2021 with renewed hope," he said.

Mr Martin remembered the more than 3,000 people across the island of Ireland who have now died with Covid-19, and said that, behind that number, there are many thousands of partners, children, siblings, and friends who are grieving.

Seven additional deaths and 206 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 were reported yesterday.

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